Reputed mob boss didn't run far
By Brendan McCarthy, Tribune staff reporter. Tribune staff reporter Brett McNeil
contributed to this report
Published January 15, 2006
With a bushy, white beard, dark bags under his eyes and wild, long hair, Joey
"The Clown" Lombardo looked little like the feared reputed mob boss who led
investigators on a nine-month international manhunt.
Lombardo's time on the lam ended about 8:10 p.m. Friday on a residential street
in Elmwood Park, not far from his longtime home in Chicago's West Town
"He did not resist, but he was not cooperative," Robert D. Grant, special agent
in charge of the Chicago FBI office said Saturday at a news conference. "He was
a passive individual that seemed to be stunned that he had been found ... The
agents had to approach the car, open the door, and assist him to get out."
At the time of his arrest Lombardo was carrying a suitcase full of clothes, a
large amount of cash and a wallet with his Illinois driver's license and other
people's business cards, Grant said.
Federal prosecutors have charged Lombardo, 77, and more than a dozen others in a
sweeping mob case that sprung from a federal investigation dubbed Operation
Family Secrets. The case ties the men to 18 unsolved Outfit murders as well as
loan sharking and illegal gambling charges spanning four decades, authorities
said. All of the men are now in custody or have died.
Lombardo and Frank "The German" Schweihs also are charged with the 1974 murder
of Daniel Seifert, a Bensenville businessman scheduled to testify against
Lombardo and others in a Teamsters pension fund fraud case.
Schweihs was a fugitive for eight months before being captured last month in a
small town in Kentucky.
Lombardo had been moving every few weeks, staying with trusted Chicago-area
associates in what officials called "spider holes."
"He's grown a lot of hair; he didn't want to be caught," Grant said. "Moving
from place to place is very stressful, as Saddam Hussein will tell you."
Lombardo was arrested while sitting in the front passenger seat of a 1994 silver
Lincoln parked in an alley outside a home in the 2300 block of North 74th
Street, Grant said.
Behind the wheel of the car was an elderly man, a friend of Lombardo's, who
according to the FBI housed Lombardo for "a couple of weeks" at his house on
North 74th Street.
That man, who Grant said was known to FBI agents, was not arrested and has not
been charged. FBI officials said they had no contact with the man before
FBI spokesman Ross Rice said he did not think anyone was eligible for the
$20,000 reward offered for Lombardo's capture.
"Obviously we believe there are people that have assisted Mr. Lombardo," Grant
said. He added that the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office will evaluate charges
for anyone found to have helped Lombardo.
Investigators began closing in on Lombardo recently after attaining "pieces of
"We were specifically looking for him," Grant said. "We were not there for any
other reason other than to find him."
Grant said more than a dozen agents had set up surveillance around the house on
74th Street and knew Lombardo and the elderly man would arrive there Friday
night. They planned to arrest Lombardo once the car came to a stop. When it did,
the agents put their lights on and blocked the alley exits.
The modest brick bungalow with an aging two-car garage is about a block from the
Elmwood Park Police Department.
Grant declined to say what led investigators to Elmwood Park.
"Put it this way, we were interested in that particular location," he said.
Lombardo spent Friday night at a Chicago police facility at
17th and State Streets and was transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional
Center on Saturday, authorities said. He is scheduled to appear in court
Lombardo's defense attorney, Rick Halprin, said he met with Lombardo for more
than two hours early Saturday. He said Lombardo was in good spirits and ready
"In his mind he is not a fugitive," Halprin said. "He's been planning for years
the defense of his trial."
Halprin said Lombardo appeared physically exhausted and had gained weight.
"If you are under that kind of stress, you wake up in the morning wondering
where you are going to be in the evening," Halprin said. "This is not good from
a health perspective."
Authorities say Lombardo may have been preparing to go into hiding since federal
agents swabbed him for DNA in 2003.
Questions arose after Lombardo's flight last April as to why he was not more
closely watched around the time of the indictment.
"Well, he knew a couple years ago he was going to be indicted and we don't have
the resources to do 24-hour, seven days a week surveillance," Grant said
Saturday. "So we did the best job we could."
The search for Lombardo included several federal agencies, including the FBI and
the Internal Revenue Service. Clues had raised suspicions that Lombardo could be
in the Caribbean or in Mexico.
Lombardo wrote letters with local postmarks to his attorney and to U.S. District
Judge James B. Zagel, who is presiding over the case.
In May, Halprin delivered a four-page letter to a federal judge that said
Lombardo would surrender if he would be released on his own recognizance and
prosecuted in a separate trial after the fate of his co-defendants had been
Halprin said he also got a letter in August that indicated Lombardo offered to
take truth serum or a lie detector test if the FBI supervisor and its informant
FBI officials called Lombardo's arrest the end to a chapter in Chicago crime,
but emphasized that organized crime still exists.
"Mr. Lombardo, from our estimation, is part of a history of Chicago organized
crime," Grant said. "It turns the chapter on that portion of organized crime.
Don't be mistaken to believe that organized crime doesn't exist ... there's lots
of organized crime in the city."